Defining Socialism for a New Ireland - Pól Torbóid | An Spréach

If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organization of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.

  • James Connolly, Shan Van Vocht, January, 1897

Like Connolly, I accept that the base conditions in the Irish freedom struggle owe themselves to the imposed economic system here in Ireland, not just to borders or a supposed ethno-religious divide. As a Socialist, i also accept that the base economic conditions in any region or state are what ultimately defines the resultant social or political order, and that to implement true change in Ireland, we need not talk about borders or national sovereignty as the only resolution we seek, but rather we should define and implement an economic position that would properly define what that sovereignty actually is. The dissolution of the British border in Ireland, in the absence of a Socialist economy and economic sovereignty is almost a pointless task; “England would still rule you”.

Arguably, one of the greatest inadequacies of Republicanism, especially in the modern era, is its failure to lay out an economic analysis of a 32 County Socialist Republic. ‘Socialism’ is a tag of convenience for some, a buzz-word implying a radical position, when none exists. For others, it is a position that differentiates them from mainstream political parties.

In the absence of defined economic policies, easily disseminated, there exists a gap between Socialist Republicanism and the masses, and we owe a debt to those we seek to lead to bridge that gap.

Imagine a not too unrealistic scenario, a decade from now, columns of Volunteers descend upon the halls of power in Dublin and Belfast. British ministers and the leadership of mainstream political parties retreat to the nearest port. Stormont buildings billow columns of smoke as radio and TV stations are seized - a masked rebel forces Volunteer reads a statement live on air, “...the Irish Republic declared in 1916 has been re-established.”

Then what? In the absence of defined policies, things would remain much the same; your landlord will still call for your rent - still charging more than it costs them to own the place, and evict you if you can’t pay; scrupulous employers will still charge as little as the law allows - and less if they could get away with it; corrupt politicians would remain as corrupt as they always were; banks and their shareholders would continue to offshore as much money as they possibly could extract from our economy, and pay as little tax as possible while doing it.

Unless there is a serious re-balancing of priorities, from the production of capital, to the rights of normal working people, our efforts will be in vain. On that basis, and seeking real and meaningful change for our people, a new 32 County government should immediately move to implement more than just a new political order, but an economic one as well.

At present, there are over 200,000 empty homes across both failed states, and a combined 129,000 on housing waiting lists. If the interests of capital were placed second to the needs of the people, could Ireland’s housing woes be solved at the stroke of a pen?

Our oil and gas resources are exploited by private companies, the dividends go largely unseen by the Irish people, and instead enrich an already rich minority. Experts are convinced that the ocean floor around Ireland contains huge reservoirs of natural gas and oil, with total oil reserves potentially in the neighborhood of 10 billion barrels; an unprecedented amount, and exploration continues. If properly managed, what might the benefits be for the Irish people?

In recent years the argument for a national living wage, replacing the current minimum, has been gaining traction. What effect might this have on our economic outlook and growth? If we placed more money in the hands of those that would spend it in our economy, paying taxes in the process, instead of those who would spend it elsewhere whilst going to great lengths at tax avoidance, what might be the outcome for our national standard of living?

Do we abandon big business with immediate effect? Where does the management of our national resources fit into our new economy? What lessons can be learned from other nations, who successfully transitioned to Socialism, or indeed were not successful? What were the pitfalls and what could they have done better? What did Cuba do? Or indeed Venezuela?

These questions, and more, need answers; and in doing that, we should lay out a clear vision of what our proposed new Ireland could or should look like. We must move away from the politics of negative sloganeering and become definitively positive in our outlook. 

In putting this short commentary together, it was difficult to keep it concise, such is the scale of the looming task ahead; and I hope over the next number of issues of this magazine, focusing on specific topics, to answer as many of these questions as possible, laying out a broad outlook on what that transition to a Socialist economy and a new Ireland might well look like.

From Issue 3 of An Spréach Magazine, Jan - Mar 2019